Updated from 2:48 p.m. EDT

Oil futures closed down Thursday, briefly going below $60 a barrel for the first time since July, after data on natural gas inventories showed a much larger build than traders had been expecting.

November crude closed down $1.38 to $61.03 a barrel. Unleaded gasoline was down about 6.2 cents to $1.61 a gallon. Heating oil was off 4.5 cents to $1.87 a gallon.

The plunge took a big toll in shares of energy companies, with the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Oil Services index falling 3.4% and the Amex Oil Index losing 4.8%.

Natural gas dropped more than 4%, losing 57 cents to $12.98 per million British thermal units.

The Energy Department said natural gas in underground storage rose by 75 billion cubic feet for the week ended Oct. 14, about 20 billion more than had been anticipated. That takes the total natural gas stocks for the continental U.S. to 3,062 billion cubic feet.

Stores were 152 billion cubic feet below last year at this time and 53 billion above the five-year average. Before the data were released, the market was already contending with a big addition to U.S. crude stockpiles, which was reported Wednesday, and the diminishing threat of Hurricane Wilma to energy infrastructure.

The Energy Information Agency said crude inventories rose last week by 5.55 million barrels, about twice the expected gain. Gasoline inventories defied predictions for a decline and rose by 2.9 million barrels. Distillate stocks fell by 1.9 million barrels, in line with estimates.

Gasoline production rose to more than 8.5 million barrels a day, while distillate production rose to an average of 3.4 million barrels a day, according to the report.

"Yesterday's reports showed further contraction in demand," said Mike Fitzpatrick, energy analyst with Fimat USA, referring to the government's weekly petroleum update. "We're taking that to mean that we're going to still see more consumer resistance to higher energy prices."

In highlighting the potential impact of higher heating-oil bills on the economy, Fitzpatrick noted that several companies have already announced plans to start holiday ad campaigns early this year. Still, he added, China's third quarter GDP, where the country's economy by 9.4%, is a sign that the global competition for energy remains fierce.

"Prices are falling and may in fact even reach May lows before winter," he said, "but don't look for them to go back to historical levels any time soon."

Fitzpatrick also noted that while the natural gas supply was greater than expected, "it is still below where it should be this year."

The National Hurricane Center said Wilma, which became the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, diminished slightly and is now a Category 4 storm. The storm is expected to hit Florida Sunday night, but energy analysts believe Wilma will not threaten the already storm-battered refineries on the Gulf Coast.

If you liked this article you might like

Be Like a Samurai -- Do Kendo

Be Like a Samurai -- Do Kendo

Investors Pull More Money Out of Stock Funds

Investors Pull More Money Out of Stock Funds

Investors Keep Pulling Money From Stock Funds

Investors Keep Pulling Money From Stock Funds

Investors Pull Money From Stock Funds

Investors Pull Money From Stock Funds

How to Make Heads and Tails of Coin-Op Machine Collecting

How to Make Heads and Tails of Coin-Op Machine Collecting